Teenager Accused of Stabbing 21 at School Is Rejected by Psychiatric Hospitals, Despite Court Order

In April, 16-year-old Alex Hribal was arrested for going on a stabbing rampage at his high school in Western Pennsylvania. Twenty-one students and staff at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pennsylvania were injured before an administrator tackled Hribal halting the attack. The administrator told police that Hribal said he still had more people to kill.

Hribal has been sitting in juvenile detention ever since. Last week, his lawyers secured a court order that he be transferred to a psychiatric facility, after a forensic psychologist testified that he is mentally ill and that his mental state is deteriorating. But, so far, at least eight psychiatric facilities have refused to take him, citing security concerns. The latest was a facility called Southwood Psychiatric in Pittsburgh.

"It's a travesty," said Bruce Chambers, the forensic psychologist who examined Hribal for the defense. "The facilities turning him down receive a large part of their revenue from government programs, and make quite a bit of money. But they are so risk-averse that they are not meeting the community's needs."

Chambers also said that these rejections are due to "misconceptions about mental illness."

It raises the question: if psychiatric hospitals don't understand mental illness, who does? Not prisons. As Al Jazeera has reported, U.S. prisons house 10 times more mentally ill people than psychiatric facilities, in extremely inhumane conditions, and many leave prison sicker than when they arrived. 

According to KDKA, Pittsburgh's CBS affiliate, both sides agree that Hribal is mentally ill. “He’s wanted help after this happened," Hribal's lawyer, Patrick Thomassey, told the court last Friday. "He realized there’s something askew in his mind, there’s something wrong. I think he wants to figure out why he did it." Thomassey has also told news outlets the attacks may have been a reaction to bullying, and that mental illness played a role in Hribal's extreme reaction to bullying.

Chambers testified that Hribal shows signs of schizophrenia and depression, that Hribal has said he understands how the Columbine attackers felt, and that he did not expect to survive the knife attack. “He indeed is suffering from mental illness,” Chambers testified. “His affiliation with the Columbine perpetrators was a way for him to act out this pathology.”

The psychologist for the prosecution agreed in part, although he argued that Hribal has an adjustment disorder due to being in a detention facility and is depressed, though not necessarily schizophrenic.

Chambers told AlterNet that members of the commmunity, including family members of victims were present in the courtroom when he testified. "There is not an outcry against the kid," he said. "I believe that the community understands that something is wrong, mentally."

Judge Christopher Feliciani agreed with the defense that Hribal shows signs of severe mental illness and ordered the placement.

After the latest rejection, the judge said: "Counsel for defendant is investigating other options. If a facility is approved, the defendant will be transferred."


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